Aug 2, 2019

Summer Camp Fun: Promoting Literacy Through Performance

At the end of June, Yspaniola ran its annual two-week summer camp in Batey Libertad. For local students, camp provides an exciting opportunity to continue learning through dynamic and creative activities. It also allows youth from Batey Libertad to collaborate with international volunteers to design lessons based on their skills and engage in cultural exchange. This year, we focused on four separate themes: art, technology, music and dance, and theater. Students were divided by age and rotated through the different sessions. At the end of camp, each group had extended time with an assigned activity, and they prepared a performance or presentation for the last day.

During theatre, students were exposed to short plays as they watched teachers perform and participated in readers’ theatre. They expressed their creativity as they played charades and painted the backdrop for an imaginary play. The fourth and fifth grade groups designed Facebook pages for a character or famous person. During another session, a classroom assistant led a group reading session in which students were encouraged to think critically and analyze the plot and characters.

Our oldest students (age 13-17) spent the most time in theatre. For their final presentation, they wrote and performed a play. Students started by brainstorming potential themes and decided that they wanted their play to have a moral lesson. They chose to focus on bullying, a theme that is relevant for their age group and allowed them to reflect on their relationships with their peers. In order to accurately depict bullying, they drew from their own experiences and watched an anti-bullying video.

As we continued working on the play, students began to take on different roles. A few students thought up ideas for characters and collectively decided who could best depict them. Some students preferred to write. They crafted clever lines and followed a plotline to ensure that their story would be coherent and entertaining for the audience. One student with strong leadership skills served as the director. She organized actors’ movements and gestures, offered critique, and kept everyone on task. The rest of the students practiced their acting skills and transformed themselves into nerds, popular kids, and teachers. 

Through this project, our oldest students were able to continue practicing their reading and writing skills during summer vacation. They were also encouraged to apply what they’ve learned about story-telling in our programs to a personal project designed to fit their own interests. By selecting an important theme, group members served as role models for younger students; teaching them how to treat their peers through a fun and thought-provoking skit.

Apr 10, 2019

Hora de Lectura: Cultivating a Culture of Reading

Working on letters for International Women's Day
Working on letters for International Women's Day

Hello to all of our Global Giving friends! Here at Yspaniola, we offer literacy classes to students aged four to 17. In addition to our classes, we run a variety of voluntary programs that provide students with extra time to practice their reading and writing skills. One of these is our beloved Reading Hour. This year we expanded Reading Hour to offer two sessions each week that are divided by grade level. On Wednesdays, we open our library to second and third graders, and on Thursdays, we welcome fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.

Reading Hour is led by two of our Princeton in Latin America (PiLA) Fellows and supervised by our local teacher and library coordinator, Mayra. Our PiLA Fellows develop Reading Hour curriculum to reinforce concepts taught in our classes. Each session includes interactive activities such as games, songs, videos, drawing, and writing. After planned activities, students have time to read independently or with the guidance of fellows. We strive to create a positive and welcoming space where youth feel comfortable improving their reading skills and learning about new topics.

Through Reading Hour, we expand on the teachers’ lesson plans while exposing our students to important themes and lessons about the world. We often create lessons based on holidays or important events. Last fall students familiarized themselves with Mexican culture when they read about Frida Kahlo, watched a video about Día de Los Muertos, and colored their own sugar skulls. In February, students made valentines to show their appreciation for their friends and families. We encourage students to take pride in their heritage, so we made valentines in both Spanish and Creole. Most recently, we celebrated International Women’s Day. With the support of a visiting group from Georgetown, our students wrote letters to the important women in their lives.

Because we have adapted and expanded our Reading Hour this year, we are following a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan to measure the effects of the program. We hope that by implementing concrete practices for tracking participants’ progress, we can ensure that it is as effective as possible. From October 2018 to April 2019, we will monitor assistance rates, number of sessions offered, and reading skill improvement. During May 2019 we will evaluate students’ interest in reading and their increases in reading level (based on our Reading A-Z system). Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on our progress and see what our students are up to in Reading Hour!

Jan 9, 2019

Meet Georgina: Readers of Batey Libertad

Happy New Year from Yspaniola! As we usher in 2019, we’d like to reflect on our organization’s growth since its founding 10 years ago. During this time, many of our students have progressed from non-readers to academic role models who inspire younger children to emulate their dedication to reading. One of these students, Georgina, 14, has been working with Yspaniola since the inception of our Learning Center, which was then run out of a community home. Although our resources were limited, Georgina credits Yspaniola with sparking her interest in learning to read and write.

Now, over five years later, Georgina is one of our most advanced students and spends her free time reading for pleasure in our library. Her peers in Batey Libertad describe her as “obsessed with reading” because she is constantly giving book recommendations. Her favorite genres are historical nonfiction and biographies because they allow her to expand her knowledge of the past and other cultures. Recently, she has read Who was Martin Luther King Jr.? and Who was Cleopatra?. She brings the information she learns into the classroom and is able to actively participate in discussions about historical events and figures.

Georgina explained that reading helps her develop her mind. Beyond this, books allow her to navigate her emotions in a healthy way. “... When I read, it transports me to another world. Also, reading is a passion for me because when I read, I feel free, happy, [and] content, and sometimes I identify with the books. Also, I like to spend time [reading] when I have problems and I’m very angry because it helps me calm myself.” Georgina’s experiences illustrate that our library serves as an uplifting space for youth in the community.

Georgina also enjoys tutoring our younger students. She is a mentor in our Pequeños Lectores program and loves empowering other children from her community. Through this relationship, Georgina shares her love of books and the benefits of having an accessible library with her mentee, Yselene.

Georgina notes that teachers in the public school are not always able to cater to the needs of students who struggle with basic reading skills. During Pequeños Lectores sessions, mentees receive dedicated attention and encouragement from young people in their community. According to Georgina, this particularly helps those who aren’t fluent in Spanish to strengthen their understanding of the language and vocabulary. They feel comfortable with their mentors and are more easily able to overcome shyness and personal barriers to learning. She has learned that "you have to be patient with kids, [and] that more than anything, you have to treat them with care." Working with Yselene has been a reciprocal relationship: "The truth is when I teach other children, they are also teaching me." When asked about her favorite part of the program, Georgina answered that "the best part is teaching her to read because [Yspaniola] also taught me to read."

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